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Government Research Cannabis Dramatically Different Than Commercial Grade Product

Comparison of NIDA cannabis vs commercial grade

Earlier this week, Christopher Ingraham and Tauhid Chappell at the Washington Post wrote an article on government-produced marijuana that is used in research programs, and demonstrated how it is nothing like the product both legal and black market users have been utilizing for years.

All federally produced cannabis is grown at a single facility, physically located at the University of Mississippi, but actually overseen and run by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

As you can see from the pictures, the cannabis produced for government programs more closely resembles a mix of stems and leaves than anything else.  The problems aren’t purely visual either – testing reports that the THC content in the NIDA-grown cannabis at a scant 8%, in contrast to high-grade commercial strains which can reach over 400% of that amount.

The article raises a number of worrying concerns; has most of the admittedly scarce research that has been performed on cannabis been performed on subpar product?  German Lopez’s article on the same subject at Vox contains an exchange he had with a NIDA representative pertinent to that specific concern.  They stated that their marijuana is “dried and frozen before being shipped and hence it will look different from the more commonly familiar dried plant sold in dispensaries.  However, this does not impact the chemical constituents found within the plant, including THC levels.”

As anyone who is familiar with concentrates is likely aware, freezing cannabis does indeed affect the plant; when the material constricts with cold, as all materials do, some of the THC crystals and trichomes present on the natural material are broken off and fall away.  This most definitely impacts the THC content of any given cannabis sample, and given the paucity of research on the subject, it is entirely possible there may be other effects as well, which we are simply unaware of at this point in time.

With the level of broad-based support that the legalization of cannabis is enjoying throughout the nation, it is a mistake to limit our research capacity in this manner.  Perhaps the federal government should tap into the immense body of knowledge and expertise that already exists within the cannabis community, and begin conducting studies on substances closer to what medical and recreational users are actually imbibing.

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